Originally created 12/01/99

Radio consolidation increases



More changes might be in the works at Cumulus and Beasley Broadcast companies -- competing groups with multiple radio stations in the Augusta area.

Cumulus Media announced Monday that it plans to buy 35 more stations in the Midwest, and Beasley Broadcasting recently filed a petition with the Securities & Exchange Commission to hold a public stock offering.

Both moves illustrate broadcast industry consolidation.

During the past few years, more and more stations have fallen into the hands of fewer and fewer operators, intensifying competition among groups for listeners and market share.

It also has created a volatile work environment for employees.

In the Augusta area, Cumulus recently laid off two employees -- veteran disc jockey Dick Shannon and Operations Manager Bruce Stevens -- at radio station WBBQ.

The decision was based on "budget reasons," Cumulus General Manager Gary Pizzati said Tuesday. However, he declined to elaborate, adding only that this is not an indication the company is financially troubled.

In the past year, Cumulus' stock price steadily has gone up, from about $10 a share to $44. It closed Tuesday at $40.

The company has aggressively expanded here. In 1997, Cumulus bought WBBQ (104.3) and WZNY (105.7) for $14 million. It now owns and manages seven stations in the area.

In October, the company changed the music format of WUUS (107.7) from country to urban contemporary to compete with WFXA (103.1), a Davis Broadcasting station. The company also hired WFXA on-air personalities -- Minnesota Fattz and Cher Best -- and WFXA's sales manager and a sales representative.

Cumulus' general manager said the move was an "air assault."

Monday, the Milwaukee-based company announced it is offering $242 million to buy 35 radio stations from Connoisseur Communications. The deal is pending regulatory approval.

Beasley Broadcasting, which owns four stations in the area, also has been expanding aggressively.

In September, the company offered to buy two more local stations, WRDW (1480) and WRFN (93.1) in Warrenton. The deal requires regulatory approval. If the deal is approved, the company will own 32 stations in seven markets nationally.

Jerri Flowers, a spokeswoman for the Naples-based company, confirmed that Beasley asked the SEC on Nov. 24 to approve an initial public offering. She said she could not elaborate on the filing, however.

Reportedly, the initial public offering of stock could raise $150 million.

Reach Frank Witsil at 823-3352.